A warm reflection on those few weeks where the world stopped turning

I have to take a moment to reflect on how blessed I’ve been lately, and in what ways.

Ever since July, I’ve found pockets in my life in which the world has stopped turning.

I take for granted how much my life lacks the hectic dysfunctionality of family, and it was nice to be in that whirlwind. Whether it be the Curtis family or the Krauses or Bolgeo (note, I consider the normal state of family to be this dysfunctional, beautiful, and chaotic thing.. so that’s a compliment). It’s also nice to have that set of people who you can be as ridiculous or loony or temperamental or whiny or whatever with and know they’ll still talk to you the next day.

I’ve been lucky to see old friends, and take unplanned, failed trips to paddle board with a brother who was a huge force in my early adulthood and still end up back to back spike ball champs. Much less an entire Hawaii trip reuniting with the fam years after he made a point to go visit my dad when he was doing that chemo treatment clinical trial stuff.

Even more, unexpectedly link up with the same friend I was crawling around with as a tyke, watching David the Gnome and eating bologna sandwiches, riding Big Wheels tricycles down the pier, and a slew of other memories that fill a lifetime in just a short sum of years — rolling around in the mud of nostalgia as we reminisce over the Pilotwings and Wave Racer 64 soundtracks and songs about a mythical place known as the CTC. Capping the entire brief stoppage of time by rewatching incredibly obscure Australian movies about Donkegins; a sliver of the really obscure catalog of movies his parents found for us to watch in our Fairview days.

And more yet, finding myself sitting around in one of our family’s living rooms with the friend I did the most of that with growing up. And sit we did until the hours burt to ash as they did in high school while the group of us escalated in inanity as if each hour was a raised bet. Without missing a step, every character was played perfectly as memory serves. Conversation pinballed across the board as we encroached hypotheticals about which ill person we’d put down like we would a pet (which of course only Robert and I enjoyed from both a mental exercise as well as a very dark place of humor) later sputtering out into a spelling bee until we collectively wonder why we are still awake and dispersde like molecules in a surge of heat.

Between all the extraordinary events and trips, the strands between have been their own hit catalog of Apollo-esque ups and even a meteoric down or two. I had both the great fortune and tragic misfortune of rekindling an old flame with perhaps the only girl that’s really meant anything to me in a significant way that in years that feel more like entire Ages of History — before it imploded again. Something of a short, beautiful song that starts out hopeful, ends somber, but still gets replayed that I can’t seem to find a way to regret.

My consistently closest friend since adulthood came home for good, and now I have the good problem of struggling to remember he’s actually here when I need to stir trouble. I’ve not only had multiple hangs with my old neighbor and another best friend, but my spirits have greater lifted finding out we live in the same zip code again. I even almost got to reunite with another one that Houston took from me, but that might have ripped the space-time continuum to shreds. And maybe most bizarre, the most wayward and ephemeral the spirits I call kindred has taken steps toward his Second Coming — the potential to end over a year without seeing each other growing each day.

At the end of things, my travels are done for now and all the alien visitors have shuttled to their corner of the cosmos. In a small sum of weeks this improbable stack of precious time with familiar-turned-foreign faces will seem an invention of a few days in the desert with some really good peyote.

Then the time crumbles to dust to particles of air to molecules and back to the atomic invisibility of memories tucked away in the attic of subconsciousness. Daily life taking the forefront.

Now that I’m aware of it all, my soul is contented in that same way a perfect dinner might induce brief euphoria, but sad because the time itself was the lapse.

Then again the world turns.

The Cold Death of the Social Universe

I never envisioned turning 31 and being alone. Thirty, as minuscule as it is, was always enough of an abstraction that it just seemed like an age where many monumental life events already occurred. An age with checkboxes ticked for something approximating marriage or at least being with who I’d probably marry, maybe children already in the mix.

Instead, I’m practically 31 and I fluctuate from being as far away from any of those things as ever to a percent of a single percent away from any of those things — and let’s be honest, it’s usually closer to the children part given it’s a lot harder to accidentally find your way into a marriage through a single bad decision or simple bad luck.

I’ve been in a more contemplative state than I have been in years lately. Perhaps it’s my own temporality catching up to me and scaring me out of my own skin like if you took the movie Scream and and replaced the murderous rampage element of it with an existential carnage that mocked all your time spent without establishing any sort of permanent mark.

I’m not lonely, or rather, I’d rate my own tolerance to loneliness and complete independence higher than most — so being in a state that would leave most lonely reads more to me like “just chillin”.

I’m also not experiencing in an existential crisis in the sense that the entire atomic structure of the universe I thought I resided in is decaying at such a rapid rate that absolute madness might take me to the desert crawling on all fours cawing and mooing until I’m neither seen nor heard from again. At least, that’s how I imagine the average existential dread feels like to most.

I’m not sad or depressed. I’ve done that plenty of times. This last year easily ranks among top 3 in my life thus experienced. And from an isolated metric of satisfaction and well-being; also high.

But I am not impervious to loneliness. I am not invulnerable to other existential crises. And I have no illusions of my proximity from feeling down versus feeling good being even as far as a day trip away. It’s more like a 5 minute bike ride in the wrong direction of thought or events.

I’ve thought tirelessly about one of the most insurmountable factors which places me at razor’s edge width between billowing catastrophe and relative nirvana.

AS you get older, especially if you retain a high level of independence, you experience what I am calling The Cold Death of Your Social Universe.

One reason why I hadn’t yet worked these thoughts out into writing is because the terminology I’m borrowing from is a little bit confusing. Among the currently theories considered most probable, physicists and cosmologists have several which postulate how the universe might end.

The Heat Death or Big Freeze, the Big Rip, and the Cold Death (which I understand to be different than the Heat Death) are all similar enough in that I am kind of borrowing ideas from them quite liberally into my thoughts on a social life through your twenties, into your thirties, and through the rest of your life.

Here’s how I’ve been experiencing it:

Just like the universe continues to expand and likely accelerating expansion, so does my social life.

Friends couple up. They get married. They start families. Their own little solar systems form and they slip a little further away from your social cosmos.

Other friends move away. Some to other states, some to other countries, and even some just 20 minutes further away or closer. And that same physical space parallels the mutual immediacy to our lives.

Meanwhile, my own little system of planets, satellites, and stars (friends, love interests, family, hobbies, jobs) fluctuate into slightly newer orbits. And drift into their own pocket of space.

These social approximations re-calibrate themselves over and over. Day after day, week by week, and years piling over years.

As we all float further and further out, the fabric of energy and memories that makes up the interpersonal bond might still be there — at least within the dimension of time. However, the transfer of social energy within my relationships suffers from social distance. ‘Leaving where we left off’ stays easy and near-immediate as ever, and some have enough transfer of balance from order to disorder that we might be lucky to get enough time hanging out to recapture that feeling of how things used to be.

Simply getting together takes more of the energy and heat transfer. When we do, it takes a bit more just to feel that same old comfort than it did when we went to school everyday or shared a roof or job or city or socio-familial dynamics.

Nothing can be the same in an ever expanding, ever changing social universe. And nothing will be.

These effects compound themselves based on levels of introversion and extroversion; or maybe we could measure it in outgoing-ness versus reserved…-ness. The more outgoing are like a huge star or imposing planet like Jupiter, where the shy-er of us might even register as something that might not even be its own planet like poor old Pluto.

Unlike the universe, we don’t live long enough to expand far enough away that all functional heat and light leaves entirely, but the effects can feel the same at times.

For the more socially energized, keeping their social solar system vibrant, bustling, and filled with satellites and planets is second nature.

For some like myself who have a social side, but are more prone to alone time — I sometimes look at my own social life like I imagine the night sky over the course of a Cold Death or Big Rip of the universe.

When I was in more forced social stages of life, it was like those pictures of the night sky in the Mojave desert; inconceivably colorful, bright and speckled like a giant paintbrush and speckled the black canvas above. Most of all, lined with the distant strokes of the Milky Way, signifying the promise of something more out there.

Today, I might sit down in an open field of my own thoughts at night and gaze up at the landscape of my social cosmos and it’s just a lot darker.

There are still plenty of specks of light twinkling, but it feels like less and less each year. The intensity they glow slowly fades when I compare memories distant and memories present. And by some perceptual sense that our human bodies don’t have that our feelings do, it’s colder.

I sit on my rock and watch it all recede and take the warmth that the idea of ‘with’ brings. And then I see I haven’t done much to the place in my own neighborhood.

When I transit to the solar systems of my friends and loved ones who have built something different with theirs; families or still booming social lives, I feel good. Then I make the long, solitary trip back by myself and it all sets in.

Even for someone more extroverted, the amount of energy to maintain it all grows until. And we all expand away. The human life cycle is fortunately different enough in that it allows us phases to build out in our observable social universe at different points in time. That’s family, if nothing else. However, there is definitely a time in between in which is feels like the expansion just carries on to infinity.

For moments, the mind catches hold of that and convinces you of a future of heat-less black. And for a sleepless night you might see the Cold Death of the Social Universe.

stripping evil of its power

I stumbled upon the tail end of a Twitter discussion (no idea how or why) that went something like this:

Person 1: You don’t think we should protect people from hate speech and/or harassment?

Person 2: We should “protect” people by speaking back, not silencing those we disapprove. Evil thrives in darkness. Expose it & debate.

Person 1: Evil doesn’t care for debates. Evil kills its adversaries. The good create laws that strips evil’s power.

While I don’t disagree with the sentiment of wanting to thwart ‘evil’, I can’t help but find this common thought pattern troubling.

For one, I think it vastly oversimplifies the nature of evil and this idea of evilness in people. Even if we boil down traits of evil into universally objective forms, you’re still left to meddle with debates, disagreements, and discourse on evil the binary versus evil the spectrum and more philosophy to wax poetic on than could fit into a thousand Karate Kid sequels. Then there’s the sobering fact that ‘evil’ has the potential to manifest in any individual.

Not interested in rambling about evil, so that aside:

Person 1’s statement that ‘good creates laws that strips evil of power’ might be the most negligent attitude toward law that I’ve encountered.

Again, at its most simple level, I agree with the -sentiment- of the idea, however, if we’ve learned anything about legislation is that it is inherently flawed — because we’re just not that good at it.

Once society veers from the most basic rights and morally accepted truths, things get hazy. And we’re still ironing out that part. Beyond that, the more specific a law gets, the greater opportunity for malfunction (I look at it as a sort of legal entropy).

How many laws, regulations, or initiatives can we pull out that were terrible in practice, while being birthed from a ‘good’ sentiment (stripped at the bare idea)?

I’m going to try to take a relatively less politicized idea for example. Let’s try No Child Left Behind; a noble notion that had bi-partisan support that most would agree did more harm that good in action.

It’s easy to have a strong idea that almost everyone can agree on (harassing people is bad).

It’s a little bit harder to establish a goal with that (protect people from harassment).

It borders the lines of possibility and impossibility to concoct specific laws that address those fairly without high risk of abuse or corruption or breakdowns due to simple lack of foresight (what is harassment? what types of harassment are there? what constitutes harassment? how do you objectively verify harassment? how do you punish each different subset of harassment? ad infinitum)

If there’s anything we know about organized society, government institutions, and any human forms of social organization it’s that we’re just not that good at it.

Our best forms of it so far are obviously very flawed. The core tenets of the west, the most benevolent and bountiful in terms of human prosperity in all of history, have also contributed to varying levels of suffering, inequality, and injustice of millions to billions of people — yet at the end of the day it’s the best we’ve come up with so far — and that’s because we’re just not that good at it. We’re not good at instituting the sweeping ideas behind them, and that’s probably how you end up with most of the ideas associated with classical liberalism, or what more closely resembles Libertarianism if we’re talking modern day political identities.

Sticking kind of with the example, if I look at how upset many are at the current education administration (which has yet to -do- anything other than speak incompetently; a distinction between indicator of probability versus actuality), yet compare how ineffective the last administration (and ones before it) were at improving our education system — a system aiming to empower  — then what should I expect from something trying to limit?

Creating an education system is bloody hard. Creating a system that enforces the most basic forms of criminal justice is bloody hard. Getting a dog to not break into the trash can is… bloody hard.

Let me step back for a second and say that this is not the same as me saying we should prevent ourselves from trying to better society or to strive to better the world from danger, but stripping power is the worst form that we have because we have demonstrated that we cannot be trusted to engineer such systems. Too often the power that is stripped is too closely related to rights and freedoms.

Great is the risk that they can be turned on people; perhaps the exact people they were intending to protect.  Misuse in ways that cause more harm than good is both too great and likely. I’d argue that history thus far is proof we’re not capable of it, a more free society often works out better solutions (just slowly, and perhaps serving as a mirror to inform law), and that if we attempt to strip anything of it’s power, it should come as a last resort.

The irony of that person’s statement is that, yes, there is evil in the world. However, most of the time it manifests itself locally, microscopically. That’s not to downplay how unfortunate and awful that is, however, I can’t help but read this and feel like it is this line of thinking that gives ‘evil’ a greater vehicle to manifest itself as a threat with terrifying reach. That is the kind of evil that I’d say “doesn’t care for debates” and “kills its adversaries”.

Good people make bad laws all the time.

You’re free to disagree with me, but I see this type of stuff said with people so quick to nod and voice agreement all the time. I can only think that this is my problem when we operate only at a noble or ‘good’ base level sentiment.

We’ve got that part down. Anything beyond? Not so much.

On Boiling in False Social Frustration

Twisted, that I can host a party with a billion people and in the following days spend the better part of a week slow boiling in social frustration.

Yet, here I am.

I’ve touched on how constant attrition wears me down in my piece on ‘the Friends Carousel‘, and it’s true. I’ve burned a few bridges myself, the extent of which I demolished them were mostly myself improperly judging the explosives I was using on them. The bridges others have burned, usually by ramming myself into situations I was trying to avoid in order to prevent exactly what happen.

I miss those friendships a lot. Sometimes I gotta wonder if I didn’t have so much pride if I could revive some of them, or if that would simply restart the crushing weight that obliterated them.

I’ve got friends that I have, yet, in practice, I’ve lost because of a sort of mutual absence; pathological liars, emotional burdens, junkies, antisocialites, and a slew of other social afflictions hover over others, and it isn’t that I love them any less, but there is always a twinge you pretend isn’t going to be there like a nagging injury that never goes away. It’s hard to find the purity that made them what they once were.

I’ve got friends who have moved far away, started families, or both, and the drift makes it hard for each of us to return to the places we left off.

I feel, likely incorrectly and quite selfishly, that I am usually the one who bears an extending sort of care for many. A sort of draw to James because he will see that you’re taken care of in some way. Of course, I’ve gotten so poor at that over the past few years, I’m not sure how I could give the impression anymore.

That might be one of the things I miss the most about Robert, though. Of most of the friends I’ve had in my life, he always seemed to extend himself to see that I was being cared for in some way. Yet, if we were back in our daily lives again, would we really recognize each other? How much of that could be reclaimed? I don’t know if you can turn that tide once you’ve began a life that -requires- putting others before yourself (a family).

Let me also add the one disappointing part of hosting is that you never get to see each person as much as you want, and at a point in the event, you’re forced to devote more time to the friends who demand more of your attention than some of the others. At the end of the night, you feel you entirely missed some people you yearned to see a lot more of.

And then there is work. In pockets where all else has failed, I’ve just told myself keep your head down and do your work, stick to your routine. Stay in shape, plays sports while you still can, try to be creative when you have pockets of time. But as good as my job has been for me, it is also greatly disappointing.

Socially, I struggle to see it as anything but a giant black spot on an otherwise bright star. Perhaps because every instance where I’ve spent a long time immersed in the same group of people, I’ve always ended up amidst a lot of companionship.

I’ll probably never have the allure of someone like my sister or Allison. The inclination upon meeting me is never, “I love James,” like the aforementioned, but my strength lies in my ability to foster sentiment over longer periods of time.

Perhaps that’s what pulls me down in all of it. I only actually get to work with 2-3 people out of an entire office. So I have the illusion that I’ve failed that pattern. It just feels a little more isolating because the rest of the office works together and my thoughts take great enjoyment in rubbing that fact in my face.

I don’t think it’d matter so much if work itself wasn’t slower than I’d like. This next year should be major for my career, but getting the project fully off the ground has been a test in patience and wading through molasses that would make drying paint anxiously tap its feet.

The point is, work is a place I like. The work I do is something I like. But it often feels very isolating. At its worst, I feel isolated for 9 hours a day. That’s never a good thing.

I also probably don’t meet enough women. This has never really bothered me. I’ve needed this time to really get to know myself, but I think the years of constant reloading of my social lineup has introduced an all new allure to finally trying to settle down as opposed to just letting whatever happens, happen.

Mom and dad being in town and leaving had a dreamlike quality. It was so quick, but I think the introduction and sudden absence had me rethinking my mid-term life goals. I’m just starting to wonder if with all the strain of trying to maintain my social life if it isn’t time to rethink what I am doing with my romantic life and if it needs to become a point A to point B type of 1-3 year goal.

I’ve been spending so much time getting myself to a point where I feel like I have all my ducks in a row, I’m just not sure if I’ve passed that point where I have enough of myself where I need to be, and if I am just not aiming for some impossible idea of where I want to be. I guess what I’m getting at is I don’t know if I should be putting myself out there or if I should just hang on to the course I was on before I start to.

I wonder how much of this angst has been exacerbated by being immobilized by my foot injury for two months. Usually, when all else fails me, I have sports to cling on to. I think there is a pristine solace to be found in the simplicity of surging past someone to put a ball into a net or through a hoop or anything of the like. There’s something about sending yourself into the black and white domain of the purely instinctual. It’s freeing in its regression given the fact that the primal state frees you from the burdens of your mind.

This was quite stream of consciousness, I realize. Sometimes I just have to get it out.

I think the details aren’t what matter here as much as the arrival to the point where I can recognize how recently I was surrounded by heaps of loving people and now am forsaking everything that means as if it never happened.

Because almost everything I lamented about was proven to the contrary less than a week before. Sometimes you just need to flush the junk out.

The Brutality of Words, thoughts on respect included

Words matter. I know this more than pretty much anyone. Probably my ugliest side is the aspect of James who, in a rush of hurt or anger or disrespect or flood of any negative energy, brandishes words like a weapon.

I’ve worked on it and really struggled, but in spite of all improvement, I still find myself at points where I use the power of words in unholy ways. I cleave, gore, batter, bludgeon, incense, and mutilate with words. I panic. I freak out. I seek out the nearest people in the moment and I do these awful things.

Most of my best friends likely wear sick scars from when they’ve been caught in the blender. It’s a deep regret I have to carry every day. The thing about the things I… we say is that they live with us for our entire lives. I know this because when I lash out, it’s the dark power I’m seeking to wield. At the end of it all, being sorry is never enough because I can’t simply erase the things I said in a moment of frailty.

At this point, I feel hardly apologetic when my ugliness comes out because it feels so inadequate. As I told a recent victim of my inner monster: if someone said those things to me, I wouldn’t want anything to do with them, too.

I personally don’t fret over it a whole lot. I used to spend entire days suffocating in my own anxiety as if the walls were painted in blood spelling out, “what have I done?!”

I guess I just have to accept my flaws, slowly improving upon my own scars on time just as I am at the mercy of the grace of those around me. Very very rarely, the damage murders a friendship, in a couple of cases, the repeated scarring has left a friendship a crippled, almost lifeless shell (thinking of a very specific one here), but most of the time, it’s just left me in a position where I swallow the bitter pill of my own flaws along with the healing medicine of others’ grace.

Thanks to all those who, for some crazy reason, keep coming back. And deeper thanks for those who understand where I am coming from amid the turbulent vortex violent debris that forms in the center of times I am hurt.

Rodney Dangerfield and Aretha Franklin

With that out of the way, I’d also like to touch on respect a bit and why it’s such a huge deal for me.

I don’t think a lot of people who know me realize just how prominent it is to my psychological plumbing.

The first problem is that I believe a lot of beefs we have with people and even from a macroscopic populace level would merely vanished if we actually respected people. Just a baseline level of respect.

Respect is a lot like an instinctual, primitive ancestor to love. You don’t have to care fondly about someone to respect them. You don’t have to suck up to them and tell them they’re great. You don’t even really have to be that nice. But when you respect someone, you just give them their due.

I’ve got some deep rooted problems, personally, because I’ve rarely felt respected. The difference between my electron-close friends and everyone else is that I’ve always felt deeply respected by them.

Part of it is one of those baggage-James-has-carried-since-childhood things that I never realized needed to be worked out until much later in life, and another part of it is the side effect of a large set of social patterns that get established.

For example, one of these is what I call The Court Jester Pattern.

The Court Jester Pattern and His Ilk

One of the downsides of being good at being self-deprecating is that boundaries never get established.

It’s a good shtick.

If you’re good at making fun of yourself, you can almost always easily amuse others. If you’re better than just good, they’ll feel comfortable joining in and poking, too.

That’s fine, I love making fun of myself, for the most part. It’s one of the few ways I can easily connect with people on a surface level. Problems start to arise when those less familiar get involved, though.

It’s funny because often times when I feel disrespected by people I expect to respect me — because they know me — it’s because they just never took a moment to step back and give me a nugget of respect in a public setting. It’s not so much a direct feeling of being dissed, as much as it is a failure to take the responsibility to set precedent.

This is often because of the Court Jester Pattern. Basically, in a group setting, I do the whole Court Jester look at this bumbling fool ha ha ha! thing. We have a good time, but specific instances arise where I actually want to make a point, or I want to at least mildly refute something that we joked about in regards to me. Because I am already acting as a sort of Circus Clown figure, naturally everyone keeps plodding along.

As soon as I try to stop the pattern, I get further invalidated. Not just that, but the fact that I want to make a serious point or take a second to stand up for myself earns me badges such as, “you need to quit being so paranoid,” and, “I don’t really understand what you’re talking about so who cares?” — among many others.

At this point in the Court Jester Pattern, I’m labeled the one who is suddenly taking things way too seriously. But sometimes a guy just wants to make an aside. Oftentimes in the torrent of joking we can extract clouds of knowledge.

At this point, the pattern locks in and cycles through. Because this is a social setting, I am usually among a person or two who knows me really well; someone who, one on one, shows me respect and is familiar with the complex dimensions that reside beyond my public persona. We can assume that most of the others really only know me at a surface level.

When Patterns Meltdown

Because the pattern is recursive, it builds on itself. The Court Jester gradually gets frustrated because he knows he is more than just a court jester and wants opportunities to leave that facade. The good friend thinks it is just a good time and everyone giving each other shit because that’s what we do, and because they know the Court Jester is also a bard, a scholar, a knight, and all these other things. The less familiar friend only establishes me as the Court Jester.

In its worst instance, this pattern leads to an eruption when I’ve been set up to be absolutely disrespected, usually by the lesser friend because there was never a precedent that I deserve any respect established. Rather, the precedent was that it’s ok– it’s cool to disrespect me, because that’s just what we all do. It turns from harmless to radioactive quickly.

Beyond that, I feel even more disrespected by the good friend who was part of whichever pack I ran with that night. They never actually directly disrespected me, and at the end of the night, if they do a mental inventory of me they hold me in high esteem, but because I am so disgusted that someone would so blatantly disrespect me, I immediately cycle back to all the times during the Court Jester Pattern that they never or very passively came to bat for my side. Especially given that they know that person well, and I don’t.

Specifically, this happened with a couple of girls most recently. In plain English, it’s not that I wanted to sleep with or try to date or anything like that with the disrespecting girl, but rather the freedom to feel like I’d had the freedom to try if I so felt the inclination. If your respect is shutout from the gate, you never feel that freedom. Instead, you feel trapped by an errant fate like an inmate in a wrongful conviction.

Give me my own chance to screw up if that’s what I want to do. I probably won’t take that chance anyway, but please don’t rob me or anyone of that. That’s messed up.

Instead, the perception of me gets battered down throughout the night and the door is opened for me to simply get discarded as if I were some action figure toy. Respect in a case like this would either be to actually set me up to look somewhat like I am, an accomplished, highly intellectual, physically gifted, creatively talented, and pensive person. Obviously, if these are the things I believe about myself, the honus is on me to show that I am such a person through interactions and time — but if all the seeds of doubt are planted, then the weeds that grow as a result suffocate any chance I have to properly represent myself to that girl, guy, potential friend, enemy, or whatever.

When Respect Bleeds Into Pride

At a certain point, a respect issue doubles as a pride issue. Once pride gets in the mix, it all becomes very hairy, because pride will mess anyone up. If you want to see what I’m talking about just look at Walter White from Season 1 all the way to the series finale. Almost inevitably, respect mutates into pride. Pride possesses us all and turns us into monsters.

I spent most of my life with little self-respect; an inaccurate twisted imp that was a never ending abortion to the virgin potential each of those years brought.

As I’ve gotten a little older, I’ve finally began to recognize that I’m not the shambling mutant, but probably what Kendirck Lamar dubbed the Butterfly. As a side effect of this newfound confidence and self-worth, I not only have to worry about developing it into an unwavering confidence, but warding off the wild demon lurking below; pride.

Here’s the thing, outside of free form social settings, I’m used to everyone around me respecting me. Those I’ve worked with have respected me because I have a sharp mind, work hard and at least try to be selfless. In sports, I’ve earned and maintained the respect of others athletically hundreds and hundreds of times. My longest, closest friends have always held me in this absurdly high regard that feels like a borderline reverence; I like to think is mutual.

The point is, in most cases I am used to be surrounded by people I know have a lot of regard for me. I’ve always felt that if I were the type who wanted to lead, I tend to earn enough universal respect that I could be a leader (of course, I’m too lazy and don’t like the spotlight, so I try to avoid being put in that kind of position).

The first flaw is that I am simply used to being surrounded by people I feel respect me. When I get out of that setting, it jars me. It messed with my head. If only these people knew who I was, if they could really see me, they’d know how wrong they are.

The second weakness is a total absence of structural integrity, because as soon as the first flaw brushes so lightly against me, it becomes a matter of pride.

That’s frankly how I end up feeling like most people don’t respect me. Not socially. Not when I haven’t been in a position where I can clearly earn it. And that’s how patterns such as the Court Jester emerge.

That’s how words become terrible weapons. True, I wish my friends would stick up for me some and give me more of a chance because we all know that I have loads of problems going on internally, but I also have trained myself to never count on it and adapted a back against the world positioning.

I guess it just is what it is. There’s part of me that thinks an older me is out there in another time who might say that this is all just youthful folly that you haven’t figured out yet, but I kind of hope not, because in everything I do I want to at least show people respect as much as I want to be respected.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to try and parry pride. Because as it was once wisely said, “Fuck Pride. Pride only hurts, never helps.

The Friends Carousel

The Friends Carousel

The list of things they never prepare you for in adulthood grows like mold spores in a flooded basement.

If we are the sum of our decisions, then the equations our lives generate infinitely varies, however, the patterns carry recognizable similarities.

For instance, all my friends who did the settle down then have kids early on have large chunks of their equation that borrow from one another. Nothing is pre-solved, but that path is one that I feel comes more standard.

Perhaps it’s my myopic, narcissistic worldview; I’m living an admittedly seflish life right now afterall, but I sense that the course I’ve decided to travel comes with shakier theory backing it.

For instance, love. I’ve chosen to be single for 4 years now. I’ve preferred it. I’ve probably turned away opportunities for companionship that I wouldn’t have had I not made the choice to be single. Even when not trying to settle down, it seems that the norm is still to be pro dating someone. (I personally see little point in being in a relationship if I’m not looking to settle down; that’s what casual dating is for).

That said, how do we find this mythological love and companionship thing that all of our other friends seem to have settled for as we traverse through our 20’s and beyond? Early on, we have high school, college, and large, natural friend circles to pull from.

When you get older, you lose that. The alternatives people in my position have are endlessly intriguing, and I can write pages on them, but I want to keep it as a mere example now.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the friends carousel lately.

From what I can tell, the friends carousel is pretty universal, but the reality of the ride is vastly different from person to person.

For the settled down folk, I see it as a standard sort of carousel, with a heavy carnie twist. Amid the usual vibrantly colored plastic horses and unicorns sloping up and down their poles, you have a hodge podge of out of place, bizarre pieces. Maybe a yellow toad with a cigarette holder and eyepatch, a gnome on all fours, and a minotaur all forced in there with the normalcy of the carousel.

They represent the outlier pieces of the friend circle that wouldn’t be there without the circumstance. Your in-laws, your husband’s wayward high school friend who got into the diamond class hard drugs in his early 20’s, or some of the parents you know from your first-born’s daycare.

After time, the carousel becomes normal to those riding it, and those of us on the outside see this bizarre, kind of uncomfortable looking ride that our settled down friends are contently riding.

As the far-from-settled-down friend, my place on this ride is that worn, plain brown horse on the inside track that is permanently saved. From time to time, I hop back on and have a good ride or two, before I have to scamper back to my own carousel.

Not to dichotomize my metaphor, but, for those of us who’s place in life is on the other side of the continent, our friends carousel is a ride made of nightmares and the terrors that resided under your childhood bed.

In my own experience, it’s something of a Gravitron meets a Swing Ride all set in a House of Mirrors. And for the hell of it, we’ll put some clowns, the scary ones standing around it with pitchforks, making sure you don’t try to get off. Because why not?

A natural detriment to taking a swing carousel and giving it Gravitron speeds are that these already hazardous carnival swings fly off rapidly and randomly.

Another friend engaged? That’s two gone.

He knocked who up? Another one bites the dust.

Then there’s all the ones you tell off because they were probably rushed replacements. Gone, gone, and gone.

All those girls you loved as friends, but didn’t like back? They’ve got voodoo dolls of you now.

And the girls you liked too much? They hit the eject button.

On and on and on it goes. It isn’t that you lose friends, but your situation — or ride, per se — dictates who you’re surrounded by the most. It makes sense. We’re just riding different rides, and maybe a couple years from now, I’ll join them on that raggedy typical carousel that you find in the mall. Of course, who knows how many of them will still be on that one.

The friends carousel is one of the most exhausting things I’ve discovered about adulthood.

Again, pleading ignorance to the settled-down carousel, but I don’t know if there has been a more difficult part of adulthood for me.

It’s forced me to have a social addiction of sorts. I’m a social introvert, but I am not the warmest personality to strangers, effort be damned. My sister is probably the closest thing to that in my entire family, but my dad, mom, and I all have varying struggles.

I’ll never walk into a room and walk out with bunches of friends. Half the time when I meet someone out, become ‘friends, and promise to each other to connect, I never personally follow through unless they persist, because in my mind I’m thinking that they’re just saying this whereas the social butterfly thinks that everyone in that room loves them and just hasn’t been exposed to how much they do; and they love those people back.

For that matter, I’ll rarely hangout with mutual friends over months, even a year or two and end up with them embedded into my running crew. I was out the other night with a big group, a rare thing today, and had a talk with a friend of mine — the mutual friend that is a friend when you’re all together, but still an acquaintance in that you’d never see them if the friend in the middle didn’t bring either of you along. We talked about crying. It was far from the most depth I’ve presented in a conversation, yet I think she was genuinely surprised the hear this stuff from me.

We’ve just never connected on anything more than the surface stuff and my heavily dumbed down public persona.

Thing is, I only really connect on a measure of depth, and I’ve found that I just do the watered-down thing out of necessity so that people like me.

Tracking back, the problem is that the churn of friends on this carousel is greater than I can reload. I’m a hell of a lone wolf, but sometimes you just want to have plenty of options to surround yourself with a big group, live fast, stay up too late, spend too much money, share some laughs, and wake up way too late wondering what you were thinking.

I’m a single lad in his physical prime. I like perusing. I love women, and the freedom my decision to remain a bachelor as long as it makes more sense than the alternative affords me to flirt with and look at them. I like to dance like a fool, or start a random “U-S-A!” chant in the middle of 308 (probably my greatest accomplishment in life).

Most of my friends who I’ve ‘lost’ to churn do, too, but their place in life doesn’t put them in those positions much, if ever.

Presently, I feel like I’m socially at my weakest, simply because the ease of assembling or being included into a social event that I have a burning interest in simply isn’t there. To take things one step further, the dwindling friends who remain on this Gravitron Carousel from Hell are experiencing the same decay loop (inverted feedback loop).

Their rosters shrink as mine does. We rely on each other to try to help find more people who share our carousel, but as the numbers shrink, the most socially magnetic friends also change rides, slowing down the ability for us to rebuild.

It’s an interesting cycle.

I think a lot about this part of my life equation a lot. I try to put myself into others’ shoes just to imagine the crappy parts of their friends carousel.

Most often, I sit there when I’m by myself and try to imagine how I can get one, two steps ahead of this blasted friends carousel. If I can come up with some crazy idea to infuse a surge of new social dynamism; the same social dynamism I’m hopelessly addicted to, because, at some point, I’ll prefer to try to settle down than I will to hang glide, and when that time comes, it’ll be a lot easier if my social circle is thriving.

I’m not entirely sure if these would merely be hacks, because in the end it seems that none of us can replace time or that beaten up, ragged brown plastic mare that is permanently fitted to many of my other friends’ seemingly tame carousels.

We’ll all be exhausted in our own ways. The carousel is mine.

Ride on, sailors.

Hail to the Viral Overlords

Part of a longer piece I wrote and half-scrapped inspired by reading the following New Yorker article (and 20 similar articles of other similar people over the past 2 years)

Let’s talk about creating something.

Real influence has to be incubated. An artist can toil away for years in total obscurity until the universe grants them their moment of recognition and notoriety. In most cases, that never comes, but without that investment there can never be a chance to wield true influence.

Virologists, in the social media, web 2.0 sense of the term are like your sleight of hand magicians who impress us by pulling rabbits out of their top hat with metric obsessed gimmickry and unfettered plagiarism, where as the original creators in the world, almost all of which will never enjoy the suffocating reach the ardents of viralism tout, are the Gandalfs and Dumbledores to their Gob Bluth.

On paper, you can’t argue with the value in being able to spread things like wildfire. There is value. The problem is that they couldn’t spread an original idea, merely flint sparks in a drought-dusted forest.

Why, still, are we treating it like the holy grail?

Instead of condemning these people for blatant, rampant theft, and sociopathic obsession with breeding greater numbers, we laud them. We build cult after cult of personality. We want to hire them. “Find us the next code cracking savant!”

Yet, there is nothing definitive that leads us to conclude that the virologists have any long-term staying power.

The true ability of the virologist is the ability to swiftly identify patterns that are popular on a sub to microcultural level and amplify them to a point that the echo chamber obliterates our mental filter much in the way ‘turning the amp to 11’ mutilates ear drums.

While obesity and an addiction to fatty-sugar-laced foods is near-universally ridiculed as the issue, statistically, reaches epidemic proportions, we further slog our collective conscious with greasier, fattier, and sweeter tasting junk food of the mind. And more of it, too.

Tirelessly, we ferry an infinitely long train of drivel into a consciousness already struggling with bandwidth issues.

Sometimes when I see a dog obsessively trying to dig for nothing into a couch, I wonder if maybe, just maybe, the beast is performing an interpretive dance of the masochistic human cycle of information ingestion.

The mass-connected mobile world of metrics and A/B tests has given the virologists true power to hone in on the social pulse to the point where they have amassed so much sludge and grime off the floor that, as we iterate from Huffington Post to Buzzfeed to Upworthy to Dose to whatever is next, we’re left alone with a monstrous sludge golem, each one more terrifyingly imposing than the previous.

Real influence, real ingenuity is taking something that the world is neither familiar with nor quite ready to ‘get’ and turning them on to it.

Most ideas that make the most dramatic changes to the world are the riskiest.

My problem isn’t so much with the Church-state of Viralism as much as it is with the misappropriated reverence. A virologist takes oxygen and brings awareness of its existence to any mope they find who already relies on the stuff with each breath.

We already knew, throughout all of human history, that we love cats. We love dogs. We love animals, We love pets so much and everyone should love ours as much as we do. We love grumpy cat. I don’t know if we loved or hated the Taco Bell chihuahua, but the little guy’s burrito sales numbers take Alec Baldwin’s character from Glengarry Glen Ross and transform him from closer to loser.

Inherently, we knew, yet it wasn’t until we had an instantaneous connection to billions that we had a way to show everyone just how much we loved the little furballs that we understood — to the point where it is ruining it for everyone else.

I don’t believe that virology as we know it can sustain. A couple times a year, we get a new exposé on the newest viral wunderkind. We’ll take a peek into their quirky offices, their lavishly funded, just-barely counter cultured businesses that plan to shake the world up with their latest big ideas, and over time they’ll come and they go.

If anything, we can recognize the Church of Viralism for what it is (in most cases), a stepping stone for high-wired minds that are always looking for the next piece of the world to tap into and hack. Though, for every Jonah Peretti out there, there will be 10 more Eric Baumans (and even Jonah hasn’t proven that he will take Buzzfeed from Viral megachurch to something greater, but I guess I’m putting my money on him ahead of all the others).

Things will always spread, and with the Internet’s Borg-consciousness, we will always have use for the farmers who can best spread it, but when time comes to create something original and spread that, let’s accept that they are no better than anyone else.

In the interim, maybe we could tone down the obsession with the Internet’s equivalent of the Monsanto board.

I’m not happy with how blogging and it’s mutated cousin, virology, have hurt the integrity of journalism and turned the news cycle into an institution full of premature ejaculators. Others weren’t happy with what the 24-hour news cycle evolved into. Or Cable TV. And so on.

I accept that there is a large degree of inevitability, and I will likely be wrong on a lot of things, but those of us who push back on the inevitability of the current state of things are part of the same inevitability that molds the future. The old soul in me will lose a lot more than he’s currently ready to concede, while gaining a lot.

Until then, I push back fiercely and without rest on the broad implications that The Church-state of Viralism has on a sociocultural level. I invite anyone else who feels similarly to push in whatever direction they feel led. I’ll see you, a bit trampled, at the end of the stampede.

The irony of Robert Johnson’s soul-selling, guitar playing piece of mythology in American folklore is that you can’t really play the blues with no soul. In the same sense, all those who sell their soul for mass reach might help bring us interesting things or mere distractions, but let’s at least try to tip our hat to those who held on to their soul, grinding it through the wheelhouse in order to originate what others merely spread without proper credit.